Lee Smolin and the multiverse

Lee Smolin argues in Physics World against the notion that there exists a multiverse of timeless universes. Smolin believes that the need to invoke a multiverse is rooted in the dichotomy between laws and initial conditions in existing theoretical physics, and suggests moving beyond this paradigm.

A choice of initial conditions, however, is merely one of the means by which particular solutions to the laws of physics are identified. More generally, there are boundary conditions, and free parameters in the equations, which have no special relationship to the nature of time. Each theory in physics represents (a part of) the physical universe by a mathematical structure; the laws associated with that theory select a particular sub-class of models with that structure; and the application of a theory to explain or predict a particular empirical phenomenon requires the selection of a particular solution, i.e., a particular model. The choice of initial conditions, or boundary conditions, or the choice of particular values for the free parameters in the equations, is simply a way of picking out a particular model of a mathematical structure. For example, in general relativity, the structure is that of a 4-dimensional Lorentzian manifold, the Einstein field equations select a sub-class of all the possible 4-dimensional Lorentzian manifolds, and the choice of boundary conditions or initial conditions selects a particular 4-dimensional Lorentzian manifold within that sub-class.

As a consequence, any theory whose domain extends to the entire universe, (i.e. any cosmological theory), has a multiverse associated with it: namely, the class of all models of that theory. Irrespective of whether a future theory abolishes the dictotomy between laws and initial conditions, the application of that theory will require a means of identifying particular models of the mathematical structure selected by the theory. If there is only one physical universe, as Smolin claims, then the problem of contingency will remain: why does this particular model exist and not any one of the other possibilities? The invocation of a multiverse solves the problem of contingency by postulating that all the possible models physically exist.

Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 2:51 pm  Leave a Comment